Legacies of Colonialism in the Midlands: Stunning Spaces with Hidden Imperial Faces?

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Tiana Kelly embarks on a quest to link some of the Midlands’ most magnificent buildings with their colonial past, in partnership with fellow UG Researcher Asha.

The National Trust owns some breathtakingly beautiful buildings and gardens here in the Midlands, for example Biddulph Grange which I invite you to Google (prepare to be blown away by the fact that people actually LIVED in these wedding-venue-worthy places!). The histories told about these spaces often fail to acknowledge a particular and common-of-the-time source of wealth for the owners and their families, something which my research project aims to correct. And so is the premise for my hours of sifting through online databases such as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biographies and the India Office Family History Search in the hope of uncovering links to the East India trading company and colonialism. After a meeting with the Assistant Director of the National Trust Consultancy confirming certain properties of interest, my research partner and I were guided into a world of research and databases where we stayed for the following five weeks.

National Trust guidebooks for some of the properties researched. They contain information about the individual property, its owners and its grounds

Armed with a bag of National Trust guidebooks for each property and a bottle of water, I took to the library to list the names of the property owners and their families who lived during 1650-1900 using a number of individual family trees, which I put into a handy and highly organised online folder so that my Research Partner could also view them. This project has truly been a journey for me as at first, many of the leads I researched came up cold, but as the weeks progressed, the family trees blossomed with each bud of biographical information I uncovered. It was all very interesting. I discovered that some owners fought in India for the East India Company, whilst others gained huge amounts of wealth through shares in the Company. I even managed to find that some of the property owners married into families with colonial connections, revealing that many National Trust properties in the Midlands have in one way or another links to an imperial past.

As part of the project, I made a trip to the British Library in London to take a look at the India Office Records archived there. It was not long before I realised how incredibly HUGE (and confusing) the archive is, which made it all the more rewarding when I managed to find something useful- one of the owner’s names in a list of EIC soldiers in 1795, for example. After squeezing out every drop of information I could find about the owners and their families using the British Library and online databases, I created reports for the properties found to have colonial connections, which too were put in that ‘handy and highly organised online folder’ I mentioned.

This has been a fulfilling and rewarding experience and an opportunity I am grateful for. I am also very proud that my work will perhaps play a part in altering the stories told about these magnificent buildings in the future, to include such an important part of Britain’s past that so often goes unaddressed in historical narratives.

Tiana Kelly, BA History with Year Abroad

Read the post by Tiana’s UG Research Partner Asha here

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